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A displaced Congolese woman carries her belongings in the grounds of a religious organisation on the outskirts of Goma in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, earlier this week. (AFP/Getty Images)

DR Congo: Armed Looters Pillage Goma As Rebels Delay Withdrawal

by Sophia Jones
Nov 30, 2012

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Sophia Jones

Once again, suspected Rwandan-backed rebels have delayed their pull out from the major city of Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Following last week's rebel capture of the city and ensuing violence, regional leaders demanded they withdraw within about 12 miles of Goma.

Although rebels have begun to withdraw from surrounding towns, the failure to leave Goma marks a breach in the internationally-backed ultimatum, reports the Associated Press. The insurgents, known as M23, have vowed to overthrow President Joseph Kabila and gain control of mineral rich North Kivu, where Goma is located.

An M23 spokesman said early Friday morning that their forces would leave Goma by the end of the weekend, but mere hours later, rebels attempted to overtake the airport guarded by U.N. Peacekeepers where Congolese ammunition was left.

The rebels accuse the United Nations of blocking access to what M23 leaders say are their weapons.

"We will not leave until this is solved. It depends on the (U.N.) now," rebel leader Sultani Makenga told the Associated Press.

Since November 15, around 140,000 people have been uprooted fleeing violence in Goma, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Aid organizations are struggling to feed and support tens of thousands of internally displaced people in camps. Of those who have returned to their homes, many have found only destroyed remains.

As we reported earlier, M23 rebels take their name from March 23, the day of the 2009 peace treaty they insist the DR Congo violated. Last spring, hundreds of soldiers defected from the Congolese Army forming an insurgent group headed by Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted for recruiting child soldiers.

With humanitarian disaster looming and accusations flying of Rwanda backing M23, Britain announced Friday that it would cut around $34 million in aid to Rwanda, instead giving roughly $28 million to DR Congo. The funds will fund food and water to 100,000 people for three months.

Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo denied such involvement and called the decision "highly regrettable," fearing the cut in funding will only fuel more conflict and impede upon Rwandan efforts to help refugees crossing the border.

Bernard Balibuno, DR Congo Representative for Catholic aid organization CAFOD, told the BBC that armed looters are going door to door demanding money and stealing cars. Prisoners released from local jails are now wandering around Goma.

(Sophia Jones is an intern with NPR News.)

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